Around 1,500 animals, including leopards, jackals, civets, jungle cats , wolves and hyenas, have died after accidentally falling into open wells around forests, making them a hazard to wildlife.
Data from Wildlife SOS, a wildlife conservation group, said that there were eight cases of leopards falling into wells in forests along the Sahyadri range in 2016. The group has started an online petition asking the district collector, Pune to get the wells covered or fenced off for the protection of these animals.
Buffer areas around forests, which mark the transition between forest areas and human habitation, are dotted with uncovered wells. Animals competing over the decreasing prey base, territory and water sources, are forced to venture out into human settlements, which puts them at risk of falling into uncovered wells. “The issue cannot be taken lightly. It is not just leopards, a species protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, that are vulnerable, but also several other species that may fall in accidentally, with potentially fatal results,” said Geeta Seshamani, co-founder, Wildlife SOS.
Wildlife conservationists said that the issue is a matter of serious concern as leopards become unnecessary victims. “There is urgent need to cover the wells, especially the ones that are at the periphery of human habitations, where leopards could be present. Construction of safety walls around these wells is also a viable alternative,” said Ajay Deshmukh, senior veterinary officer, Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Centre, that currently houses 32 leopards, many of whom were rescued from wells. These animals are not fit to be released back into the wild since they cannot fend for themselves because of injury or age.
Forest department officials confirmed that this was an issue that they had been facing for over two decades but no one had taken responsibility to resolve the issue. “The village eco-development committee - participation of villagers in joint protection measures, patrolling, anti-poaching activities - for Pune region, which has 13 villages close to forest areas, needs to invest the money earned from wildlife sanctuaries to build fences and walls for these wells. The forest department will support them in this endeavour,” said KP Singh, chief conservator of forest, Pune division.
“We have not received the complaint from the NGO yet but the basic protocol when it comes to this issue is that owners of private areas are responsible for constructing walls or fences around wells near their home. When it comes to government land, we will be speaking to revenue officials from different areas and come up with a plant to mitigate the issue,” said an official from the Pune collector’s office.
Some cases of leopards falling into wells
•August 4, 2016 – A seven-year-old leopard was rescued from 60-foot deep well at Pimpalgaon Siddhanath village located in Junnar division. Locals heard loud, panicking noises from the well and informed forest officers that rescued the big cat.
•March 10, 2016 – Forest officers and local NGOs rescued five-year old female leopard from a 30-foot-deep well at Savidhane village, Junnar. The leopard fell when she saw her reflection in the water. In a five hour long rescue operation, forest officials used a trap cage to pull the leopard out.
•October 28, 2015 - A two-and-a-half-year-old female leopard was rescued in a three-and-a-half hour operation from within a 50-feet deep well in Parner Taluka, Ahmednagar district. The leopard had fallen into two separate wells while being rescued by forest officers.
•May 29, 2015 – A four-year-old male leopard was rescued from a 40-foot deep well using a crane and a trap cage by forest officials at Kothapur, Junnar.
•May 5, 2015 - Forest officials and veterinary staff at Vadgaon, Anand village in Junnar taluka, Pune district, rescued a three-month-old leopard cub from a dry well.